Got a laser in your sights?

Picking the right laser for the job


     Guide rod lasers: Guide rod lasers are also available from several manufacturers, including Laser Aiming Systems of Burnsville, Minnesota, a manufacturer of green laser sights. These units have a laser mounted inside a guide rod that shooters use in place of the factory-installed one. They also have an on/off switch that is normally mounted on the outside of the weapon. As this type of system does not change the outside dimensions of the weapon, it allows officers to mount the laser without purchasing a new holster. It also mounts the laser directly under the bore, which helps ensure a better zero of the weapon.

     Rail-mounted lasers: The third type of laser sight is the rail-mounted laser, which comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. These sights mount on a weapon's Picatinny-style accessory rail. If users are putting one on a long gun, this is most likely the type of laser they will use. This rail-mounted system is also available for handguns. Streamlight Inc. of Eagleville, Pennsylvania, makes a nice rail-mounted laser, which includes a built-in flashlight.

     Some manufacturers, such as LaserMax, have a rail-mounted laser with an additional rail built into the bottom of the unit. This allows officers to have a rail-mounted laser and add a rail-mounted flashlight underneath it. I placed one of these lasers on my AR-15 patrol rifle. I already had a SureFire G2 mounted on an off-set bracket that I use with a vertical forgrip. The Lasermax unit installed under the light mount. This set-up allowed me to add a laser sight without changing the set-up for my light.

     The drawback to using rail-mounted lasers and lights on handguns is that officers may not be able to find holsters that fit them. Prior to purchase, shooters should look into holster compatibility. This type of laser also adds weight to the weapon that could be a deterrent. Additionally, people with smaller hands may have difficulty reaching the controls for these units.

Laser variations

     As mentioned earlier, many variations in the laser beam are now available. Red has been the staple color for laser sighting. Red lasers work well for most applications but are hard to see in some lighting conditions, particularly in bright sunlight, which tends to wash red lasers out. Studies indicate that the human eye sees the color green better than red. For that reason, companies such as Laser Aiming Systems and LaserMax have developed the green laser, which is more visible under a variety of lighting conditions and can be seen at much greater ranges.

     To test this theory, I tried out two lasers, both made by LaserMax. One had a green pulsating beam and the other a red pulsating beam. In the bright California sunlight, I could see the red laser easily out to 15 yards. Beyond that I could find it out to 50 yards, if I looked closely. This was largely due to it pulsating.

     In contrast, I could see the green laser clearly out to 75 yards. If I looked closely, I could see it out to 100 yards. Again, this was due to the pulsating beam. I doubt I would have seen either laser at the longer ranges had they not been pulsating. This unscientific experiment proved to me that the green laser is in fact much more visible, and that the pulsating feature is valuable.

     The technology used in the green laser is different than that used for the red laser. Without going into a complicated scientific discussion, what this means is that the green laser has a considerably shorter battery life. This must be weighed against the conditions under which the laser will be deployed.

     When it comes to choosing between a steady or a pulsating laser beam, there is a valuable lesson to be learned from the blinking lights of the Las Vegas strip and the flashing lights on law enforcement's patrol cars. The natural tendency of the human eye to be drawn toward movement is an advantage of the pulsating beam. This allows an officer to scan for additional threats using his peripheral vision without losing focus on his aiming point.

Laser advantages

     Laser sights have a significant psychological advantage. The sight of red or green dot on a suspect's chest lets him know an officer means business. It provides the suspect with a visual reference about shot placement that is hard to ignore.

     A friend who works narcotics uses a laser on his handgun. He told me about a search he and his team were conducting for a violent and reportedly armed suspect. The suspect had fled into an alley and was hidden behind a metal sign. Officers could see his shadow moving behind the sign but no one had a direct visual on the suspect. The officer with the laser put the beam on the edge of the metal sign, bouncing it off the sign squarely onto the suspect's chest.

  • Enhance your experience.

    Thank you for your regular readership of and visits to Officer.com. To continue viewing content on this site, please take a few moments to fill out the form below and register on this website.

    Registration is required to help ensure your access to featured content, and to maintain control of access to content that may be sensitive in nature to law enforcement.